The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought response from the central government, West Bengal government and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights on the report submitted by a committee setting a guideline on the valuation of trees.
The bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justices A.S Bopanna and V.Ramasubramanian was hearing an appeal of the NGO, Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) against the final order of the Calcutta High Court which allowed the felling of 356 trees for the construction of Railway over bridges on NH 35 in West Bengal.
The Apex Court on January 9, 2020 constituted a committee of 5 namely Nishikant Mukerji (managing director, Tiger Environment Centre), Soham Pandya, (secretary and executive director at the Centre of Science for Villages), Sunita Narain(director, Centre for Science and Environment), Bikash Kumar Maji (assistant chief engineer, ROB unit, West Bengal government) and Niranjita Mitra (division forest officer, North 24 Parganas) to examine the issue of loss of trees and to consider the alternatives to the proposed felling of heritage trees.
The Expert Committee in compliance of the Courts order has submitted a report taking into account a Cost/Benefit analysis and the capital. The report takes into account the financial value of a full grown tree, which is often ignored by project proponents. As per their analysis, the value of 300 full grown trees which are cut 100 years before their natural age is at least 2.2 billion (220 crores).
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The committee has further said,
“from the available information and the site visit, what is clear is that these are not ordinary trees. This matter concerns the protection of what can be called ‘historical trees’, which have ‘Irreplaceable value’. Compensatory afforestation cannot replace trees of this value.”
The Court also expressed its inclination towards laying down a protocol to be followed for such projects and to make sure that alternatives are considered which are less environmentally damaging.